Pitt’s off week could not come at a better time.
The Panthers (5-2, 2-1 ACC) picked up a critical 45-31 ACC Coastal Division win Saturday at Virginia, but lost at least two players to injury by game’s end.
Star defensive end Ejuan Price missed most of the second half after leaving the game with an undisclosed injury. He was tended to by the training staff, and never left the sideline, but did not re-enter the game.
Free safety Terrish Webb also left the game with an undisclosed injury before halftime and didn’t return, and linebacker Quinton Wirginis also appeared to get banged up on a punt return.
Pitt is off until Oct. 27, when Virginia Tech will travel to Heinz Field, marking first of three big opponents on the schedule. Miami and No. 4-ranked Clemson are up after the Hokies.
“It’s perfect timing,” said coach Pat Narduzzi, regarding the off week. “I wish it was two weeks instead of a week and a half, but we’ll take full advantage of it. Our trainers and doctors will do a great job with our kids and we’ll come back fresh.”
Narduzzi rarely comments on injuries, and gave no indication of the seriousness of any of those suffered at Virginia. He simply replied “yes” to a question about whether it was a testament to get such a strong finish by the defense after a day with so many injuries.
The Panthers were able to hold the Cavaliers to just 108 yards of offense in the second half and a single field goal.
“I don’t know if we wore them down. We were a little worn down ourselves after Game 7. A little banged up,” Narduzzi said. “It was nice to see guys come out there and make plays. We had some new guys out there on the field.”
Pitt started the game with backups at several key positions on defense. Phillipie Motley earned the start at cornerback in place of Avonte Maddox (arm), a week after Narduzzi had gone with Dane Jackson.
Bam Bradley played the bulk of snaps at linebacker in place of Mike Caprara, who was dressed and warmed up but did not play.
Narduzzi said Motley and Jackson had a strong week, but Motley won out in the final days of practice before the team headed south to Charlottesville.
“We practice and figure out who’s the guy. Dane had a decent week as well. It was a tough call,” Narduzzi said. “Actually it was a split call on Wednesday when I was in the staff meeting it was half and half. They both really had a good week of practice but we gave the nod to Phillipie.”
For a defense that gets scrutinized so much, it was an impressive win that Pitt simply needed in order to hang onto its title hopes.
It would have been colossal bad timing to fall apart on a day the division got even more jumbled than it had been. Virginia Tech, which was previously unbeaten, lost to Syracuse, and fell out of the AP Top 25 poll. North Carolina then knocked off Miami, which also is no longer ranked. No Coastal Division team is undefeated.
The games created a three-way tie atop the division between the Tar Heels, Panthers and Hokies.
Narduzzi said the fact his team persevered was an indicator of how far they’ve come.
“It says a lot. We’ve learned. You have to live and learn from your mistakes that you’ve made in the past,” Narduzzi said. “I think we really paid attention to details in the second half in all phases and finished off the game. It’s impressive.”
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.